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Getting from acceptable to excellence (and peace of mind) is easier if you pay attention to the standards all year long. Is it easy? Probably not. Is it worth it? Let the experts tell you, themselves.

Preparing your operation for business as usual is a financial and time investment that is arguably worth the effort. Processes and procedures ensure the safety of your team, keep fines from hitting your bottom line, and increase productivity with proven repeatable actions and techniques that produce profits. Also, when you do the right thing, you have peace of mind as an owner or operator about the multitude of negative consequences when you don’t. Here is a collection of expert opinions to consider when evaluating your operation’s standards. Let’s jump right in with five things to do now to achieve compliance.

Top 5 Tools for Compliance
Sara Hamidovic, MS, PE, CHMM, President,
VET Environmental Engineering, LLC

When evaluating compliance, there are five top tools to concern yourself with I’ve discovered through my years of experience helping auto recyclers clean up their operations. These are a great place to get started to improve your operations.

1) Delegate!
You, the manager, are busy! It is time to start realizing the value of your time. Businesses that effectively delegate tasks are more compliant. While you may avoid compliance-related tasks, your employees will not. Take advantage of your employees’ desire to impress you and give them the opportunity to shine – while taking something off your plate.

2) Make sure your compliance plans are up-to-date.
You may need a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan (SPCC), or both. Make sure you have these documents in place and to keep them current. Missing, outdated, or incomplete compliance plans are one of the most frequent violations from environmental agencies. A qualified environmental consultant can conduct a quick facility audit and compliance plan review and let you know where you stand! Remember, plans are only valid for five years.

3) Invest in a compliance software program.
Choose a program administered by a professional familiar with requirements for your industry and state. The program should provide record keeping, safety training materials, required inspections, due dates, and reminders. A good program will give you peace of mind, help you maintain compliance, and stay organized. Let someone else research requirements and develop materials so you can focus on performing the tasks and running your business.

4) Start clean-ups and be involved!
Cleanliness and tidiness provide prospective customers and regulators with a first impression of your business – make it a good one! Periodic clean-ups, daily/weekly/monthly, even ten or fifteen minutes long, should be a priority and should involve everyone. If the boss is doing it, than it must be important – right? Keeping work areas clean and tidy will also reduce the risk of safety related issues (slips, trips, falls, etc.) and increase employee efficiency.

5) Reward excellence. Address mediocrity.
Good leadership is paramount – morale trickles down from management. Conduct regular walkthroughs of your facility. Rewards as small as a lollipop, $5 gift card, or being released from work a few minutes early are surprisingly effective. Make it public: “Joe’s been doing a great job keeping his station clean!” Staff that wasn’t rewarded will work harder to earn their own reward or praise. Build a friendly competition. Of course, poor performance should also be addressed. Never allow substandard activities to continue – stop it, and correct it, the minute you see it.

The Spill Prevention, Control & Countermeasure Regulations
Cheryl Horn, PE, Senior Engineer, RPS Group

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) promulgated Oil Pollution Prevention regulations that require facilities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to releases of oil through the preparation and implementation of a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan.
Do I need an SPCC Plan? Any facility with a total above-ground oil storage capacity of 1,320 gallons or more is subject to the federal requirement to implement an SPCC Plan. Under the SPCC rules, you must consider all oil storage containers with capacities of 55 gallons or larger. This includes not just storage tanks, but fuel and oil tanks and hydraulic reservoirs on industrial equipment such as crushers and balers.

It’s important to note that the size of the container is what matters, not the amount in it. For example, let’s say you have a 2,000-gallon diesel fuel tank, but your fuel supplier delivers 500 gallons. You still must count the entire 2,000-gallons when determining if you have 1,320 gallons of oil storage capacity.

Most of my containers are empty so I don’t need a plan, right? We often see a lot of empty oil storage containers sitting around. If you keep them on site, they are subject to the regulation even if empty. The only way around this is to permanently close them. Permanent closure requires that you empty the container, seal it closed, disconnect any fittings, and label it as closed with the date of closure. The best bet is just to get rid of it!

I am not sure if this is oil. How do I know? Common oils included in SPCC Plans are fuels, used oil, hydraulic oil, or motor oil and petroleum based solvents. But don’t forget oily wastewater from parts washing (if you are collecting it in totes, tanks, etc.), which is also considered oil by the EPA.
We commonly see fluids included in SPCC Plans which are not technically oils, such as antifreeze, DEF, toluene, and ethanol. While there is no prohibition on including these in your plan, doing so may be misleading, since they are not oils and are not subject to all of the SPCC requirements.

Do I need an engineer to “stamp” my SPCC Plan? There is another threshold to be aware of when it comes to SPCC: 10,000 gallons. Most yards won’t ever have 10,000 gallons of oil capacity. But be aware of this threshold, because if you exceed it, you will need a licensed professional engineer to stamp your SPCC Plan and re-certify it every 5 years. Plans for facilities with less than 10,000 gallons can be certified by facility representatives (“self-certified”). An SPCC Plan with an engineer’s stamp will cost more than a self-certified version.

What do I need to know to successfully implement the SPCC plan? The critical component of your SPCC Plan will be the description of secondary containment. All bulk storage containers must have secondary containment. Ideally, this containment will be passive, meaning it does not require any action on the part of your employees. This includes structures like berms, curbing, dikes, pallets, trays, oil/water separators, or double-walled tanks. Secondary containment must be sized to hold the entire capacity of the single largest tank plus rainfall if not covered. The rainfall depth varies depending on location, and in areas with more rainfall, this “freeboard” amount can be significant.
For indoor storage of tanks, totes, drums, etc., your building can often be used for secondary containment. However, you must assess the storage area to ensure that the building would actually contain a spill, and if there are doorways or floor drains through which a spill could exit and discharge outside, to the city sewer, etc.

I have an oil/water separator. Can I use that for secondary containment? Oil/water separators are a great option for containment. However, we often see clients relying on these devices without doing the work required to maintain them. If the oil chamber is not cleaned out frequently enough to preserve the containment volume, the device won’t do you much good if you have a large tank fail after operating hours. You also must make sure that your oil/water separator is large enough to hold a spill from your largest tank.

What else do I need to do to stay compliant? You will also need to conduct SPCC inspections of each container and associated piping, fittings, and containment areas or systems, including oil/water separators. These inspections must be conducted on a regular basis; usually monthly. We often see clients who are keeping up with their inspections, but they neglect things like the containment structures, piping, and valves. Don’t forget piping! It is the most likely equipment to leak because it is typically under pressure, and often not as visible.

Finally, you need to keep your SPCC Plan up to date as conditions change, and make sure the plan is re-certified, either by a professional engineer or by the facility management, every 5 years.

Thoughts on Environmental Permitting
Mike James, CEO, James Environmental Management, Inc.

At the end of 2017, ARA invited a group of environmental professionals for a panel discussion on current issues facing the auto recycler today. As a panelist, here are my thoughts pertaining to permits.

The world of Storm Water Permits and SWPPP’s and SPCC’s – and all those other things regulated by an environmental agency – are changing. The agencies are attempting to make it easier for the regulated community (that is you the auto recycler) to comply, but in my humble opinion they have succeeded it doing exactly the opposite. It has gotten harder.

What the agencies have done is aggressively implemented compliance rules that require application and reporting using a host of different electronic means. Generally speaking, handling environmental compliance with pen and paper are behind us. And why do we really care about this? It requires you to be extremely computer savvy in communicating the reports and the permit applications.

Look at just the state map below and ask yourself is this confusing. You better believe it is confusing. And this is only a map of the facilities that are facing electronic reporting pertaining to their storm water samples.

And since this slide was prepared, negotiations have started with a number of states pertaining to how they incorporate the electronic reporting. There is one take away that everybody must be aware of. It has gotten easier for the regulator to know if you are in compliance, but worse, this electronic reporting system makes it much easier for abuse of the third party civil suits that the Clean Water Act allows. Across the board the auto recycler must be more aggressive about being in compliance. This electronic reporting subject has taken away the opportunity of keeping your head down. Get your permits, take your storm water samples, and file your reports.

Now that things are easier on the agencies, we are seeing more penalties for unpermitted discharges, failure to file reports, exceeding of benchmark readings in sampling and general non-compliance with the regulations.

With the new regulations, the agencies are paying much closer to the pollution load of the stream or river you discharge to. Knowing the amount of pollution that the river can handle, allows the agency to establish something called a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Limit). They are now starting to write TMDL sections in permits that in essence means the Stormwater Permit is not only driven by the State, but by the Watershed in which you discharge. If you are unfortunate enough and many of you are that you discharge into an impaired water body, then the rules on your discharge are increasing even faster.

The pace is getting quicker. The one way to manage this is to make sure you pay attention. Make sure that those on your team responsible for sampling and filing permits and reports are alert and attentive to the requirements. We survived the second half of the 90’s when these rules first started to apply to recyclers, and we will survive this latest round of changes in how to comply. Just be on your toes.

Deep Cleaning: A Clean Yard is a Compliant Yard
VET Environmental Engineering, LLC

Spring has sprung. Along with warm breezes, singing birds, and blooming flowers come weeds, mud, and bugs. This is a great time to look around your yard with fresh eyes and do some serious seasonal cleaning. Small fixes and investments can make a big difference that regulators and customers will notice. A clean yard is a compliant yard!

Even if you have been doing regular good housekeeping inspections and proper maintenance, there are always things that fall through the cracks or are saved for later. This is especially true in winter when it’s cold and miserable outside, and when snow covers the ground. In a primarily outdoor business like an auto recycling facility, spring rains and melting snow always make a mess: access roads are muddy, neglected or unnoticed leaks are mobilized by stormwater, and trash seems to appear out of nowhere.

This is a good time of year to walk your yard with extra critical eyes. Pretend you are a customer (or auditor, or regulator) and see what stands out. Is trash accumulating against a fence? Are bare spots or mud in the crushed stone? Drips on the ground? Unlabeled fluids storage tanks? Weeds growing against buildings or along access roads? Add any issues to your to-do list.

First impressions are key for regulators and customers. Something as simple as weeding will improve your yard’s appearance and curb appeal. This is especially true if the crushed stone cover is getting thin. If your vehicles are hiding behind a wall of weeds, it’s time to take action. General purpose, household herbicides (such as RoundUp) can be used. A weed whacker clears tougher weeds.

Another common issue we hear about, especially in the spring, is mud. Mud seeps up around crushed stone and soon the crushed stone is gone and your yard is covered in mud. You can keep adding loads of expensive crushed stone, or you can prevent it from sinking by using special mats or fabrics, a money saver in the long run. Geotextiles or landscape fabrics are made so that water drains through them, but soil stays underneath and stone stays on top. Consider laying it in chronically wet or high traffic areas.

And finally, mosquitoes and other vectors can breed and live anywhere there is standing water. Vectors are animals or insects that carry diseases that can infect humans. Waste tires get a bad rap for this. Puddles and standing water in drainage ways can be breeding ground for mosquitoes. Walk your yard a day after it rains. Are there still puddles? Local site grading with a shovel will prevent mosquitoes from breeding. And if trunks and hoods can’t close, pull body plugs or drill holes to allow water to drain.

Keep your yard clean and compliant by making small, routine investments of time and money. It all adds up!

The new CAR Fluids Management Guide is available for download from the ARA website ( The ARA CAR program has Environmental Standards that each salvage facility adheres to for renewal of their certification. To become a Certified Automotive Recycler or CAR Member each year ARA member yards review and score their Safety and Environmental “fitness” using the CAR Points Protocol. The CAR program has developed a FLUIDS MANAGEMENT GUIDE for members to reference for compliance and safety.